Foolish Emilyan and the Talking Fish

Foolish Emilyan and the Talking Fish

Foolish Emilyan and the Talking Fish is one of many Russian Skazi - Wonder Tales. This tale, or story, is an old version, retold and translated by Lee Wyndham in her book, Russian Tales of Fabulous Beasts and Marvels. Her book is illustrated by Charles Mikolaycak.Other Russian tales told by Lee Wyndham include Ivashko and the Witch, Kuzenko Sudden-Wealthy, The Magic Acorn, and The Firebird.


Emilyan lived in a village on the shore of the Volga River with his two brothers and their wives. Although he was good-looking, he was also foolish, lazy, and despised work. He spent his days sitting on the clay stove in the kitchen. His brothers ran a trading business left to them by their dead father. The brothers left Emilyan one day, to sell their wares along the river, leaving Emilyan with the wives, promising to return with a kaftan, red boots, and a red hat for their brother.

During the days and weeks the brothers were gone, the wives tried unsuccessfully to get Emilyan to do work, until one day, they left Emilyan with a choice: get water from the frozen river, or no dinner and no kaftan, red boots and red hat. At that threat, Emilyan hurried on his way, and on reaching the river, he grumbled about his problems while hacking away at the thick ice. As he scooped water into the buckets, he noticed he had caught a fish: a large pike. Emilyan was going to take it home for supper, but the pike pleaded with him, promising that if Emilyan were to let him go, that Emilyan would never need to work again, which was a tempting offer for lazy Emilyan. All he would need to say, was “By the Pike’s command, and at my desire-(command)“ and his will would be done. Emilyan agreed, and to his surprise, the commands worked.

Emilyan was not careful to conceal his new talent for work, and soon the tsar heard about it, and ordered this ‘magician’ to appear before him at his palace by the Caspian Sea. Emilyan, being foolish and lazy, ordered his stove to take him to the tsar, using the Pike’s command. He arrived instantly at the palace before the tsar, still lying on his stove, where he looked down on the tsar and was not acting the way a subject should towards his superior. The tsar would have ordered his head cut off, had he not wanted the secret to the boy’s power. However, he could not extract the secret from Emilyan, so he tried to use his daughter to get the secret. After three days of teaching each other games, the princess had learned only that Emilyan was handsome, fun, and charming. She wanted to marry him. The tsar was at first angry, then decided that Emilyan would perhaps give up his secret to his wife, if he became married. So he arranged for a wedding.

At first, Emilyan was horrified at the idea, believing a wife to be more trouble than it was worth. He agreed, though, and the wedding feast was held soon after, at which Emilyan finally got down from his stove. During the feast, Emilyan had terrible table manners, which convinced the tsar to finally rid himself of the obnoxious boy. A sleeping potion was added to Emilyan’s wine, he was thrown in a barrel and tossed into the sea, and his bride banished to an island in the sea opposite the palace. While floating in the waves, Emilyan encountered his friend the pike, who allowed Emilyan to wish for anything his heart desired, since he had not abused his power. Emilyan wished for wisdom, and when the pike pushed him to the island, Emilyan fell in love with his wife. He had the hut on the island transformed into a beautiful palace, with a crystal bridge connecting to the mainland, so that his wife could visit her father, the tsar. With his new-found wisdom, he made amends with everyone, and thereafter lived happily and ruled well.


*Lee Wyndham, "Russian Tales of Fabulous Beasts and Marvels", “Foolish Emilyan and the Talking Fish”

*Thomas P. Whitney (transl.), "In a Certain Kingdom: Twelve Russian Fairy Tales"

*Moura Budberg and Amabel Williams-Ellis, "Russian Fairy Tales"

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